Devon Chulick:

Tellus a bit about yourself, your name and what games you run, etc.

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Hi, I'm Jaye. To start off, I’m a journalist and I've only somewhat recently started getting into the field of professional DMing. I have a lot of experience running D&D 5th Edition. But, I’ve also been creating my own system and have a passion for running two very different types of games. Both old school revival style games, which can be very lethal to players and dangerous and kind of this old school “rulings before rules” mentally. But I also like the opposite end of that spectrum, and I think there's some sort of middle ground between Powered by the Apocalypse, extremely narrative driven games, and OSR.

 

Whenever you're designing your own system, you end up putting your favorite things from a bunch of different stuff and there are combinations of those two things in my work. Even when I play D&D 5th Edition, I like to get at this sense of, oh, we're playing kind of loosely, and I want cool things to happen, while also giving players a lot of power. It's not just all on the DM to decide everything.

 

Devon Chulick:

You were saying that you are a journalist and I saw that you used to work for Arizona Public Radio.

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Yeah, I worked for KJZZ, which is the public radio station Phoenix. My background is in audio and podcasting, mainly radio storytelling and long form storytelling. I created a podcast a few years ago that was all about different artists, mainly in the Phenix area, telling their own stories about trying to make it in the arts, which is always difficult. And jumping into the world of tabletop role playing and game designing and pro DMing is its own thing where I feel like I've jumped into an even less monetizable field.

 

Devon Chulick:

How did you get started in tabletop RPGs?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Asa player, I got started in college, back in journalism school. A group of us wrote for the student newspaper, and just one person had played Dungeons and Dragons before. And I guess I'm one of those people who got into it when the first season of Stranger Things came out. I'm a relative newcomer to D&D in general.

 

And then a few years ago, I started volunteering for a group here in Arizona, it kind of went away for a bit because of the pandemic. But there is the Arizona Game Fair, which is a once-a-year event. They also had Intro to D&D Night every week during the year, where they just had volunteer DMs introducing people, anyone who showed up, how to play. And so that was just groups of people who had never played D&D before and just running through the very basics of the rules and an introductory adventure.

 

Devon Chulick:

Cool. That's awesome. You've done a lot of GMing, do you prefer to be a GM over being a player?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Yeah. Yeah. I feel like every year or so I'm like, "It would be nice to play again,” and then I do and then I'm missing the freedom to just change somethings. And maybe it's because I like to hear myself talk — I got into podcasting for a reason maybe. There's only so much you can do as a player.

 

Devon Chulick:

Asa GM then, what's one of your proudest moments?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Proudest moments? I guess there are some things looking back that were very cool moments that I honestly would not recommend anyone necessarily do if they're just starting out. This was an early D&D moment and watching different streams online I had a burst of inspiration: “What if we introduced for a moment the concept of a hidden role game into this tabletop game we're playing.”

 

This is the very first campaign that I ran. Several sessions there were some shenanigans with brain devouring monsters, basically an Invasion of the Body Snatchers plotline. When that was established there was basically a sort of cut to black moment and the session ended. And then I met with a player one-on-one, and I'm like, "I'm not going to force this on you, but would you like to be the bad guy, the secret villain?" And she was like, "Oh, yes!”

 

We were such a great group of friends and ultimately when the deception was revealed I could see on people's faces everyone was surprised and shocked and like, “oh my God.” I didn't even have to do that much work. But I would definitely caution anyone who has that sort of idea of have a secret player villain or even just in general, any sort of game breaking twist.

 

I’d recommend just being very careful with it and knowing beforehand that it's this weird balance. You obviously wouldn't want to spoil a twist for your players, but sometimes that sort of thing can bleed into real world. Like, “Oh, I've been lied to for like three months by my friend that didn't tell me.” And that can have real consequences if you're not constantly checking in with your friends. I would just be very cautious about trying that. I'm very proud of it. It worked out, and it was great. My friends talk about that today, but be careful.

 

Devon Chulick:

Howwould you recommend someone go about getting buy-in from their players to have these secrets without revealing the fact that there's going to be secrets?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

At this point, for instance with some of those players who I still play with, they're already a little primed that there could be a secret. I think it's just setting clear expectations from session zero for that kind of thing. From the very beginning whatever you're doing, even if it's just a one-shot, just belike “This is the vibe we're going for.” Or, “There could be these things, no promises, don't expect this to happen, but are you okay with this possibility happening?” That's the starting point. There are of course a lot of safety tools online. Off the top of my head, I'm forgetting the exact document…

 

Devon Chulick:

The TTRPG Safety Toolkit.

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Yes! I reference it a lot.  There are a lot of little things in there that are helpful. At the end of the day a lot of it comes down to communication. Beyond just setting clear boundaries around the type of story you want to play from the beginning, it’s doing that more or less all the time, and as a DM trying to be constantly aware of how your players might be reacting to things and just checking in with them after the session. What I'm talking about here is just something relatively simple, without even getting into the realm of darker storylines or things that cross certain boundaries or not. This is just in the realm of “We're all on the same page as friends and I don't  want to feel personally betrayed by you when you are the secret villain.”

 

Ithink a lot of it is establishing those boundaries and communication, because at the end of the day, all you're doing is having a very structured conversation with some rules and some dice rolls. Coming from my journalismbackground, it's a kind of a tricky balance. In journalism, you're trying to get at some sort of deeper meaning in the story. But if you're going to broach very personal topics, you don't want to re-traumatize someone. So, you just need to broach these things very honestly and openly.

 

I think that in D&D there’s this feeling that you shouldn’t metagame. But I think that asking meta questions or having meta conversations like pausing the game for a moment is always totally appropriate as a sort of check-in. So that's really I recommend: talking about the story, taking a moment to zoom out, and if that feels awkward for a moment, just remember that you're probably just talking with your friends. And if you're DMing for people you don't know, it's even more important to check in to learn what they actually enjoy. You don't want anyone to have a bad time.

 

Devon Chulick:

With that kind of knowledge, you seem very aware of your players and how to make a game of that kind work. Was there a moment where GMing just felt right to you? Where it clicked and you realized, "Whoa, I'm a game master."

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

I'm trying to think. To  a certain degree, the first time I GM'd, I did so out of necessity. ”Hey guys, maybe we could play D&D. Are you sure you don't have time?" For a few months I'd belike, "Are you sure you the schedules aren't going work? Okay. No? Nobody?" I felt like Will in Stranger Things.

 

I was basically trying to just get that first session. And when I did, I was completely nervous and just like, "What am I doing?" I think a few of my friends noticed that, but we were good friends. I honestly cannot remember the initial moment it clicked because I just remember having a lot of fun as a group, all of us having this big collaborative story experience. I think maybe it clicked by the time I was DMing for strangers and volunteering and teaching people how to play D&D. I think maybe it kind of clicked then and I was like, "Oh yeah, I'm just doing this for people I don't know and still really enjoying that."

 

Devon Chulick:

That's awesome. It's always funny, I feel like once people play the first time, they're like, "Oh, okay, yeah, I'll be here next week,” but getting that first session is like the hardest. How have tabletop RPGs influenced your life?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Well, I mean, my friends, both the ones who play games and don't, will say that I talk too much about tabletop. And not just D&D — just all sorts of obscure rules of mechanics. And I'm the kind of person who starts talking about like, "You know, if we're trying to encourage player agency…" and just going off on some meta conversation. They're like, "All right, Jaye, That's cool, cool, cool, cool. So anyway, have you seen the latest season of this show?"

 

But bringing it back around to journalism for a moment, I think Tabletop — GMing specifically, having to be aware of what I prioritize in GMing, being aware of the emotional reactions of my players, how they're taking different story beats and trying to encourage them to be very present in the story — that all fed back into journalism and vice versa.

 

The improvisational skills I use as a GM definitely help improve my interviewing abilities as a journalist and vice versa. Because, even as a journalist, I think, as I mentioned, I'm trying to get information out of the source, but I want to do it carefully and tactfully. Sometimes there are ways to get that information, or you reveal a story that you didn't even realize that the source was going to go to. And with DMing for players, I feel like to a certain degree I’m making carefully masked interviewing questions. I'm putting these obstacles in the players’ way that should help prompt a deeper question about their characters. Like how are they going to react in this particular scenario?

 

And sometimes these questions bleed over into real life. I have a very personal story about D&D giving me an eye-opening view into gender presentation. I'm a trans woman, and the first character I played, the first game I played, I played a female Half-Orc Warlock, and she was really cool. And it was the first time I was referred to with she/her pronouns. Because when you're playing a Tabletop game it can become interchangeable whether you're talking about the player versus the character.

 

That felt very liberating to even just realize, "Oh, yeah, I've been thinking these thoughts for a while,” but to hear that out loud, it was a cool space to explore that. Not everyone is going to have that specific experience of course. Or even something necessarily that deep. But I do think that there are little things that you might learn about yourself in a Tabletop game. It might just be that freedom to experiment with a different type of personality trait. You're like, "Wow, I'm never a very confident person or boisterous, but maybe I want to try that out in this Tabletop game." And maybe that feels kind of right.

 

Devon Chulick:

That's amazing. That's a really touching story. I think there's a lot that we want to see in ourselves that we sometimes use games to experience and things that we don't want to see in ourselves but want to explore, and tabletop is viable for that. It sounds like, from what you’ve said, that you seem to prefer a homebrew game over a pre-written adventure. Is that the case?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Yeah. I think that my gravitation towards homebrew is that sometimes the pre-written worlds feel a little limiting. There's so much history and lore and if a player comes in with certain pre-established notions about what that lore is, that I as a DM don't know, and those aren't communicated to me, then I feel like I'm suddenly muddling through say, the Forgotten Realm's lore. And there's a lot of things where I won't know what the ramifications mean in a particular setting. At the end of the day, I also just love creating.

 

I like starting in a homebrewed world. Fourth Edition D&D, for all its mechanical flaws and different flavor of gameplay, I think had a very interesting story concept, which is that the default setting was kind of vague and undefined. It had a “Points of Light” world where the GM could go in and insert quite a lot. There were some big picture things fleshed out like deities and  possible societies, but the fine details are really up to the GM and the players. And when I do homebrew, I certainly have a lot of stuff built up, but I can't design a whole new Forgotten Realms. But working together, my table might be able to.

 

When I start a long running campaign, my favorite thing to do is not just start with zero, because everybody gets choice paralysis then. "What you want to do?" "I don't know, what can we do?" So, coming with a few genres maybe or just premises. A game that I'm currently running was like we want to get a quasi-Western 1800s, 1900s start of industrialization feel. Working with all the players, we built the backbone of a world that we then jumped into.

 

I did the same thing with a game that I started a little while ago which was D&D, but in space. Basically reinventing Starfinder but with 5thEdition rules. I find it very liberating to start with something with the expectation that all the players can create something. If a player comes in with particular notions from an established world, be it in D&D, like Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms, or Star Wars or anywhere else, I am totally down to weave those setting expectations into the world. The whole point of a Points of Light setting is that it's not quite defined. And for me that's very liberating to let players actually build out the world and feel far more connected to it.

 

Devon Chulick:

That's awesome. Okay, so if you could go back to when you first started GMing, what advice would you give yourself?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Let players do the cool thing. I just have these memories, and it is only the first few sessions, but I remember this scene where, we had our first little fight, and one of the players roles a natural one. I kind of imagined, well, this ishow it was played for me, so I guess I'm going to roll on a critical fumble table to see if you dropped your weapon. And luckily, in that particular scene, it wasn't game breaking or the end of that character.

 

I think there can be a tendency to sort of even in D&D 5thEdition, which has given a lot of agency to players to do things. There can be a tendency for the idea of a critical fumble table, which is not in the rules —it’s a homebrew thing, but I think a lot of DMs use it. Or we create a consequence that a player doesn't actually know or realize could be a consequence. Which then gets in a weird space where a player feels they’ve suddenly been punished for a thing they couldn't have even predicted or didn't even realize was in the rules. And my first few times GMing, I was doing things like that, just thinking that was how the game is played. “This is just the norm.” You get random things and you roll to see if a one bad thing happens.

 

Nowadays, I've stepped away from that a little bit. Obviously, if you roll badly you don't get to do the thing, but I try not to penalize players.

 

Looking to one of the most popular D&D streams, Critical Role, there's that question that comes up at the end of a battle while they vanquish something: “How do you want to do this?” And then the player gets this moment of agency to describe how they've destroyed this monster and they get to do that description. I've started kind of doing that more and more, but with everything, "How do you want to do this?” You didn't have to role a nat 20.You didn't have to defeat the last monster. “Wait, please describe in detail how you're doing this thing. How was your attack hitting on just the regular attack?" "Oh, you got knocked unconscious. Well, obviously, you didn't get to decide that, but how did it bring you down?" Giving the players more agency to decide the narrative itself and the flavor, I think, is what I would recommend to my previous self. Because it gets overwhelming to try to do it all as a as a GM.

 

Devon Chulick:

That's great advice. I think the more agency you give a player, the more they're invested in anything that's happening. So, we talked about this question earlier before we started recording, but gatekeeping is a huge topic within many communities and the tabletop community is no exception. Have you ever had any experience with gatekeeping in this community and how do you respond to it?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

I would say that in terms of like running games, and especially because at that point, I am choosing who the people are at my tables, I haven't had any negative experiences with that. Even volunteering and playing games for strangers, I haven't had any weird experiences yet and I feel very lucky in that respect.

 

Devon Chulick:

I love hearing that.

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

However, as a player, I have had a few not so great experiences. And this gets into a weird thing of like what we define as gatekeeping. Because there are huge problems in media in general, like very overt gatekeeping. When it's in the industry side of who is allowed to be a game designer, who gets hired by larger companies, whether it's tabletop role playing games or just the larger media industry in general. But I feel like you get into the same phenomenon as gatekeeping when as a player… I had this experience where I just jumped into a random one shot and everyone else happened to be a guy. And there was some weird stuff that happened within the story. Nothing too terrible, but it still felt kind of icky.

 

There are people who like jumping into those scenarios, like somebody who does not have any immediate friends who have experience playing games or even any interest. You end up having to play with strangers. Wanting to jump into a group of strangers, that can be nerve-wracking, and it kind of becomes gatekeeping when the experience is bad. When problematic or just unsafe things happen at a table, it can end up turning that person away. I'm lucky enough that at the time I was very invested in the hobby in general and I kind of already had the idea that it was just a bad table. I was lucky enough that it wasn't my first table. If it was, I don't know, there might have been a gap with my time in the hobby, or I'd just give up for a while.

 

Devon Chulick:

That's one of the importance of safety tools, is to make sure that every time you play, you're not going to have those feelings. That's a great point. Gatekeeping has many forms is my big take away from that. Are there any people in the community who have inspired you that you'd like to shout out?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Orion Black — I follow a lot of their work. I had a chance to talk with them two years ago about some general design stuff…it was a conversation about queerness within Tabletop role playing games. And how Tabletop games can be inherently queer, and finding some sort of gender expression within the game. But I've been following their work and they have just really cool, really smart things to say on Twitter about the industry. I definitely recommend following them or checking out their work.

 

Somebody who also kind of got me started on this idea of like, huh, maybe I could do this too is Vanessa Hoskins. She’s a freelance RPG author and designer, and she’s done a lot of work for Pathfinder. A few years ago, I was starting to DM, but I never really considered pursuing game design, which is something I really enjoy. I never really thought about it as more than just a hobby. I had a conversation with her a while ago that was, once again, for a story about discovering her gender while writing tabletop adventures. The conversation that I had with her made me start thinking even back to my own experiences as a player. Then also thinking, maybe I could start writing my own content.

 

Devon Chulick:

Now, if you could say one thing to the Tabletop RPG community, what would you like to tell them?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

One thing to the whole community? Listen to your friends or listen to your players and your GM. I think at the end of the day, we're having very structured conversations and telling these stories together. Please don't hurt people. Idon't know how else to tell you,  you should care about how other people feel. And please don't cross boundaries. You don't ever want to re-traumatize anyone.

 

Devon Chulick:

My last question, do you have any projects that are in the works that you want to promote or that you've recently completed?

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

I've been designing a game; it’s still in the early stages. There's a draft of it upon Itch.io. It's called After the End. You can find it atillunispress.itch.io/after-the-end. But the storytelling premise of it is you are a hero who has failed. The bad guys won. Now, what do you do? I started designing the game and really working on it after I was laid off from a journalism day job back in the early days of the pandemic. I started harnessing that feeling that I failed. I felt like I’d just lost something and what do I do after that point? So, the premise of the game, it's still definitely being ironed out. But that's the tagline: When you fail, what do you do next? And a big key mechanic in that game is you will probably fail, but that doesn't mean it's the end of your story.

 

Devon Chulick:

That's such a great concept for a game. I mean, even listening to it just made me think about all the times I failed and realized there was something after that.

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Yeah. So that's kind of a big project I've been working on. I have a few other things I release sporadically on Itch.io, whether it's one-page dungeons to other homebrew content. And then of course, I'm running games on Startplaying.games. Currently, I’ve set up one-on-one sessions with people completely new to tabletop to work on building a character with a system of your choice and running through those rules, but really focusing on the role-playing part of it.

 

A little thing I do is a one-on-one mini-adventure at the end of it for about no more than 30 minutes to like maybe 45 minutes. It’s a very quick duet adventure, very improvisational, but based off of the backstory that we've started coming up with. That way they have one scene and can point to one concrete event that happened in their character's life.

 

Devon Chulick:

That's so fun.

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

I do that and I'm working right now on setting up some additional introductory adventures. One of my passions is introducing people or working with people who have less experience with this medium or with playing these kinds of games. Both because it feels great to teach someone or show someone this incredible experience they can have. And also, because if I mess up on rules, who's going to notice?

 

Devon Chulick:

That's amazing. So, yeah, maybe we can see you running The Pit soon.

 

Jaye McAuliffe:

Iran that for a group of friends on Halloween and it was spooky. It’s a horror one-shot I wrote. It was Alien meets Cthulhu-esque Eldritch Monstrosities.

 

Devon Chulick:

It's checking a lot of boxes. Jaye, thank you so much for chatting with me. And we have your links right down here below that people can check out not only yourprofile, but also the other projects you're working on.

You can request a game with Jaye or check her out on Twitter and Instagram

Find Jaye's TRPG maps and adventures on itch.io and Instagram

Posted 
Apr 30, 2021
 in 
Game Masters
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